The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House

Watch this press briefing at the White House on 23 April — following President Obama’s announcement that it had just been realized that two hostages [one American, one Italian] had been inadvertently killed in a US strike “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region” in January…

In the briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “Our CounterTerrorism people follow *Near-Certainty* standards” to carry out an operation, and then evaluate it later using a *high-confidence* battle-damage assessment [[drawin on multiple sources of intel] …

He explained that *Near-Certainty* standards mean “that it was an Al Qaeda compound frequented by an al-Qaeda leader + that civilans wouldn’t be hurt”…

[The *Near-Certainty” standards are described in this link, a White House Fact Sheet Tweeted by @MicahZenko = “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities”

All these *Near-Certainty* standards were observed, and yet two hostages [that the US did not even know were on the site] were killed, so there will now be some kind of reassessment to see how such ops could be improved, Earnest indicated.

But these ops will not be stopped, Earnest said: “These CT [CounterTerrorism] ops, which are critical to the nationale security of the US and to the safety of American people, will continue”…

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Continue reading “The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House”

[UPDATE: text now published by Obama's NSC] Neither White House nor State Department have published deal on Iran's nuclear program.

From the IAEA meetings in Vienna this morning, this Tweet noting that the U.S. Government had still not published the text of the deal agreed in Geneva very early on Sunday:
Mark Hibbs @MarkHibbsCEIP — Heard here in Vienna just now that USG still has not published the text of the #Iran deal.

But British journalist Julian Borger of The Guardian replied, by Twitter:
@julianborger — @MarkHibbsCEIP NSC [the U.S. President’s National Security Councii] emailed it [the Joint Plan of Action] a few days ago, but I can’t find it either on the State Dept or White House websites. Just the ‘fact’ sheet.

UPDATE: Now, The full text of the Joint Plan of Action can be found on the National Security Council website here — the posting seemed to have been on November 27.

The full text of the deal was published first by the Fars News Agency here, and then picked up with a caveat by Reuters here. It wasn’t until many hours later that it was also posted on the European Union’s website here.

A full day after the deal, the U.S. State Department Tweeted a link to the EU website for the Joint Plan of Action
Joshua H. Pollack @Joshua_Pollack 25 Nov — This appears to be the best text online MT @StateDept: Read the P5+1 and #Iran Joint Plan of Action [here].

Mark Hibbs [Berlin-based Senior Associate, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] replied, on Twitter:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @julianborger Maybe they reasoned that if EU-3 felt it owned the Iran negotiation, it could own the document-!

The White House published only a “Fact Sheet”, here, which appears to be a list of U.S. talking points on the first phase of this deal.

From Washington, Joshua Pollack [consultant to the US government, contributor to the Arms Control Wonk blog and to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] Tweeted earlier:
@Joshua_Pollack — Iran’s MFA dislikes the White House fact sheet on the Joint Plan of Action: see here … Well, the fact sheet is not diplomatic.

He described what’s wrong, for the Iranians, in the White House Fact Sheet
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet: triumphal tone, emphasis on Iranian concessions, continuing sanctions, & temporary nature of relief, (1/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet, ctd: …naming Parchin, Additional Protocol, Modified Code 3.1. Same substance, different spin. (2/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Both Iran’s govt and the USG need to sell the JPOA at home. But these efforts could “bleed over” to the other side. Spin with care!

Then, Mark Hibbs pointed to the remarks made by Iran’s Foreign Minister to the Majlis as being equally provocative:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @Joshua_Pollack On other side @JZarif spin on Arak to placate hardliners in #Iran will cause @teaparty heartburn here

Earlier, Iraniah journalist Hassan Soleimani reported:
H.Soleimani @MashreghNews_ir — FM #zarif in parlimnt.: revert to 20% enrichment takes only one hour.

Meanwhile, on 26 November, as Robert Mackey reported here on his New York Times blog, TheLede, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry posted a Youtube explanating the U.S. view of the deal in “simple English”:

And, also thanks to Mackey’s TheLede, here is Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif explaining the deal on Iranian TV [IRIB], with English subtitles:

A review of the findings: Arafat's mystery death [murdered by poisoning]

Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa told Al-Jazeera, here, that the reason there had been no autopsy on Yasser Arafat is “because the Palestinian people would have seen with their own eyes a huge betrayal, and a big crime committed against them – the crime of killing their own leader.”

From the very beginning, al-Qidwa said [to me + to others] that he believed his uncle, Yasser Arafat, had been poisoned.

He said it again in Al-Jazeera’s latest investigative documentary on Arafat’s death, “Killing Arafat”, aired on November 10: “There was clear evidence that this was a case of assassination, that Yasser Arafat was actually killed by, by poison”.

It became clear relatively quickly at the Muqata in Ramallah in October 2004 that Arafat had more than a bad case of the flu.

Saeb Erekat, perennial Palestinian chief negotiator, told Al-Jazeera that during Arafat’s final days at Percy Military Hospital outside Paris, he received a phone call from Nasser al-Qidwa, who was at the hospital. Al-Qidwa, Erekat said, asked him “to tell the Americans to ask the Israelis for the antidote.” No further information was given about what the Americans may have said or done – but no antidote seems to have been produced. Arafat died on 11 November 2004.

Over a year ago, Al-Jazeera’s documentary, What Killed Arafat?, which aired on 4 July 2012, reported stunning findings from a Swiss lab which indicated possible Polonium-210 poisoning.

This news was a jolt to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, though they had already survived, nearly unscathed, Al-Jazeera’s January 2011 “Palestine Papers”, here, a special series of reports based on documents leaked from Ramallah offices that revealed embarrassing details about Palestinian negotiating conduct during direct talks with Israel.  Clayton Swisher, now Al-Jazeera’s Investigative Journalism Manager, worked on the “Palestine Papers”.  He then worked – in close collaboration with Arafat’s widow, Suha [who’s lived abroad, with her daughter, for years] – on the two documentaries investigating Arafat’s final illness and death.

Some in the Palestinian leadership believed Al-Jazeera was out to get them.

There were subliminal messages: In “What Killed Arafat?”, Swisher states that at the time of Arafat’s death, “Regime change is exactly what Washington + Tel Aviv had in mind”.  This is superimposed over archival footage of Mahmoud Abbas speaking about democracy to the PA’s Legislative Council [PLC].

That documentary also included the archival audio of Suha Arafat calling Al-Jazeera from the hospital in France in 2004 and saying, live on air, in a strident tone: “Let the honest Palestinian people know that a bunch of those who want to inherit are coming to Paris.  You have to realize the size of the conspiracy.  I tell you, they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive”.  This audio is superimposed over footage of Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmad Qurei’a, and Sa’eb Erekat being received soon afterwards at the Elysees Palace by France’s then-President Jacques Chirac.

Nevertheless, within hours of the broadcast, Mahmoud Abbas ordered Palestinian cooperation with any investigation. By contrast, Abbas reportedly opposed an autopsy at the time of Arafat’s death – reportedly, “to avoid any problem with the French authorities”…

Nabil Shaath said in “Killing Arafat” that “the French did not really encourage an autopsy”…

Suha had also reportedly opposed an autopsy, but she denied it adamantly again, in “Killing Arafat”.  She has told Al-Jazeera that she simply was overcome and in shock, and did not even think of it.   She then told Le Figaro, in August 2012, that it would have been “dangerous” to bring up poisoning right after Arafat’s death.

However, according to an account written by two Israeli journalists in 2005, Suha refused doing a liver biopsy in a French hospital four days before his death.  Neither she nor her daughter returned to Ramallah for the burial in the Muqata’a, which was a chaotic scene. Arafat’s body was returned to Ramallah by Egyptian helicopter in a sealed coffin on 12 November 2004, and buried in the midst of a churning crowd inside the Muqata’a.  However, according to a lengthy report by Suzanne Goldenberg, published  here on 16 December 2004 by The Guardian newspaper, Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, then the chief Palestinian religious official, had been upset by the non-observance of tradition during the burial, and supervised the exhumation of Arafat’s body at 2 am.  The body, according to this account, was removed from the sealed coffin, and reburied in a shroud.    Tamimi told The Guardian: “We broke the cement and the stones, and we took the coffin out. I saw him, touched him and prayed over him, and I was able to bury him properly”.  Then, the story added, “guards returned the body to its place, a cement container that was built to line and preserve the gravesite in the hope that one day Arafat would be borne to Jerusalem following the creation of a Palestinian state”.

In any case, although poisoning was suspected, there was apparently no effort, even at the time of Arafat’s burial in Ramallah, to take samples from his hair or fingernails for later testing.

Swisher just reported, in “Killing Arafat,” that the decision not to do an autopsy was taken by the “Palestinian leadership.”

After the broadcast of “What Killed Arafat?” in July 2012, the Palestinian investigation is now more closely run by Mahmoud Abbas.  Abbas’ term as President of the Oslo-Accords-created Palestinian Authority has arguably expired [after Arafat’s death, he was elected to a four-year term in January 2005,  which was then extended for another year, until January 2010, to allow for simultaneous balloting on a new Palestine Legislative Council, but the Fatah-Hamas rift has justified indefinite extension].  Abbas continues to hold office until new elections which he himself must call — he has already been ruling by Executive Decree under emergency powers since mid-2007.   Meanwhile, like Arafat, Abbas has consolidated all three  reins of Palestinian political power, including the leadership of Fateh, the largest Palestinian political movement, as well as the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization [the position which carries with it the title he assumed last year, when he signed the application for UN membership: President of the State of Palestine]…

Meanwhile, Swisher became subject to conspicuous surveillance during working visits to Ramallah, was insulted and treated with disdain by Palestinian security personnel [all shown, in “Killing Arafat”]. The antagonism between Swisher and the Palestinian leadership has only increased.

Swisher has Tweeted this telling result from an Al-Jazeera Arabic opinion poll:
Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 13 Nov — In a poll commissioned by @kasimf viewers were asked “Do you think the PA wants to find who killed #Arafat. Of 10,438 polled, 93% answer NO.

Continue reading “A review of the findings: Arafat's mystery death [murdered by poisoning]”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

[UPDATED] Working Draft Part 1 [January 2012 to 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

January 2012 to August 21 2013

January 2012: The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences to an unnamed UK chemical company on 17 and 18 January 2012 to send dual-use chemicals [that are used in production of sarin] to Syria — for “use in industrial processes”. The Business Department said “it had accepted assurances from the exporting company that the chemicals would be used in the manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures”. A Department spokesperson said these chemicals were requested “for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames”.

July 2012: The permits were eventually revoked in July, in response to tightened European Union sanctions — before these chemicals were exported. Critics said “it appeared the substances had only stayed out of Syria by chance”…. “Although the export deal, first reported by The Sunday Mail in Scotland, was outlawed by the EU on 17 June last year in a package of sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the licences were not revoked until 30 July. Chemical weapons experts said that although the two substances have a variety of uses such as the fluoridation of drinking water, sodium and potassium fluoride are also key to producing the chemical effect which makes a nerve agent such as sarin so toxic”.  Source: “Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria: UK accused of ‘breath-taking laxity’ over export licence for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride”, by Cahal Milmo, Andy McSmith , Nikhil Kumar, published by The Independent on 2 September 2013, posted here.

But, The Daily Mail reported on 7 September that: “Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin. The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’… The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis. The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes”.
Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria’…”
Source: “Britain sent poison gas chemicals to Assad: Proof that the UK delivered Sarin agent to Syrian regime for SIX years”, Mark Nicol, The Daily Mail, 7 September 2013 – updated 8 September 2013, posted here.

It appears that the news of these sales + export licenses was leaked in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary defeat of the UK Government motion, at the end of August 2013, to join in proposed military strikes on Syria in the aftermath of the 21 August 2013 #CW attacks on Ghoutha which killed hundreds, possibly over 1500, of civilian casualties.

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13 July 13 2012: News reports indicated that the Syrian government was moving its #CW stockpile to one or more undisclosed location[s].
“Red Line” remarks:

13 July 13 2012: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon later that same day, however, that “The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles”. He added: “We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons…We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line”. And, he said, if any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions. Little added that “We are watching very closely — not just the United States, but the international community — to make sure that they maintain control over those stockpiles, and of course, to ensure that they don’t use them”… Posted here.
20 August 2012 – US President Barak Obama: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…That would change my equation…We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans”.   Source: James Ball, the Washington Post, posted here.

18 July 2012: First Iranian letter [or “warning”] sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. Posted here.

Peterson’s report followed up on remarks by the new Foreign Minister of Iran, on 1 September 2013, that Iran had informed the US 9 months earlier that “extremist elements” are transferring chemical weapons to Syria. In an interview with the Iranian weekly, Aseman, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had sent an official memo to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests section in Iran and informed US that ‘Hand-made chemical weapon Sarin is being transferring to Syria’… “In that memo we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents,” Zarif said — although the “Americans never replied to the memo.” This is published here.

===========================

23 July 2013:  The French Government report issued on 2 September reported this: “Syria has long been equipped with a a massive chemical arsenal, together with many related delivery systems. The Syrian regime acknowledged as much on July 23, 2012 through its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, who confirmed that: ‘these different weapons [chemical and non-conventional] are stockpiled and secured under the supervision of the armed forces’…”

Source: ‘National executive summary of declassified intelligence: Assessment of Syria’s chemical warfare programme’, French Government report dated 2 September 2013, posted here.

===========================

September 2012: US + Russian officials began work, bilaterally, without public announcement, on the issue of Syria’s #CW, as we learned a year later, on 14 September 2013:

Paul Adams @BBCPaulAdams 14 Sep 2013 — US officials in Geneva say Americans and Russians have been discussing how to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons for a year.

Marian Houk @Marianhouk 15 Sep 2013 — Transcript of background briefing by State Dept officials at US Mission in Geneva yesterday mentions 1 year of US-Russian contacts on #Syria

US State Dept official[s] briefing on background in Geneva on 14 September: “We had groups that have been meeting for a year between our national security councils to talk about the elimination + destruction of #CW…in Syria, because the entire world understood that if we got to a peace, we were going to have to deal with the chemical weapons… There’ve been, I think, 5 meetings of that group over the past yr, so we already had experience working w/ each other + sharing expert info…But we did not come to this meeting with a full-fledged plan”. This is posted here.

17 September 2012: Der Spiegel reports that Syria’s military had conducted #CW tests:
“The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate. The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir. Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements…In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.  This is published here.

1 December 2012: Second Iranian letter, or “message”, sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. This is posted here.

 

3 December 2012: Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman wrote for Wired.com’s Danger Room: “Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas [ isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride], an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.  The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria…[Last week] the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. ‘They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity’, the official says … Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop ‘external’ forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country … Fighting around the Syrian capital of Damascus has intensified, as rebel troops captured a half-dozen bases around the city”.

Source: ‘Exclusive: U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack’, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/syria-chemical-weapons-3/

 

14 December 2012: “With Syrian rebel forces gaining in strength, elite units loyal to Bashar Assad received a frightening order a few weeks ago: begin preparations that could lead to the use of chemical weapons…Danger Room first reported last week that U.S. officials recently saw indications that at least some Syrian military forces mixed precursor chemicals for sarin gas, which got the weaponized stocks to the point where they could be loaded onto planes and dropped.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick adds detail to that account. Some elite troops received “specific orders” to prep the weapons. At least one Syrian army unit was caught on surveillance photos loading “special military vehicles” that could be used to transport the weapons…  Warrick writes that there were fears throughout the U.S. intelligence community that ‘a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command’… Assad’s motivations remain unclear to U.S. officials, but according to Warrick, someone in the Syrian chain of command provided instructions to prep sarin for potential battlefield use about two weeks ago. Assad’s intentions are unknowable, but using sarin will most foreclose on the life-saving option of finding a foreign country willing to accept Assad for exile”.
Source: ‘U.S. Surveillance Caught Syria’s Chemical Weapons Prep’, Spencer Ackerman, The Danger Room on Wired.com, 14 December 2012. This is posted here.

 

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]”

Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Well, they have tried it before — the Annapolis process, Wye River, Camp David July 2000 and let’s not forget former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker announcing “here’s my phone number, call me when you’re ready”…]

Kerry's Iftar - full table - US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Kerry’s Iftar – full table – US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators
Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Israerli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner
Israeli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

So, as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday evening [with an emotion-laden voice, before apparently impulsively kissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on both cheeks],  there’s now a second chance:

“A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it…”

Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday
Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Kerry said, at the beginning of the press conference on Tuesday, that:

“As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

He said one striking thing at the end of his prepared remarks:

“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war”.

And in between, he said:

“The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate – believe me – we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu – and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there”…

A few weeks ago, just after Kerry’s flying visit to Ramallah on 19 July, Rami G. Khouri wrote here: “I have not given up hope that a negotiated peace can one day be achieved, but I pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through renewed negotiations mediated these days by the United States … It is impossible to expect both sides under their current leaderships to make major substantive concessions on core issues simply in order to get to the negotiating table, where they will not be able to agree on a final accord that addresses the big sticker items of land, settlements refugees, and Jerusalem. The strategy now being used seeks to formulate vague agreements simply to resume negotiations will not work because the imprecision of positions on settlements, borders or mutual recognition necessary to restart the talks only cements the inability of both sides to achieve a permanent, comprehensive agreement”.

So what happened in the last ten days? One thing, apparently, was the U.S. issuance of still-unpublished “letter[s] of assurance”, in which the American administration took a stand in favor of concrete positions [such as, the negotiations will be based on pre-4-June 1967 borders, which changed things for the Palestinians…]

US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators
US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators

This photo was Tweeted by the US State Department and is posted here.

Now, Khouri wrote, in a piece entitled “What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?”, syndicated by Agence Global and posted here, that he was disappointed in Kerry’s call, Monday [and Tuesday] for a “reasonable compromise” — Khouri said Kerry “sounded more like a high school guidance counselor speaking to teenagers who had an argument”.

Continue reading “Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?”

Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release

A slightly different version of this story appeared earlier today on +972 Magazine, here.

****************************

“No, I am not satisfied”, said Qaddoura Fares, crisply, commenting on the Israeli Cabinet vote Sunday — after hours of debate and delay for persuasion of the unconvinced —  to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.

Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013
Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013

That vote led immediately to a formal invitation from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to both Israeli and Palestinian negotiations to come to dinner in Washington the very next day, for 1st direct meetings [since January 2012].  The State Dept officially announced resumption of “direct final-status negotiations”, and on Monday Pres Obama welcomed the arrival of Israeli + Palestinian representatives to “formally resume direct final status negotiations”,

Qaddoura, a Fatah leader [who, years ago, was a member of what was then-known as “Young Fatah”] spent many years of his youth in Israeli jails, and is now head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, which works to help Palestinians being tried in Israeli courts — most often, military — and held in Israeli jails.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had given Kerry a list of the 104 longest-held Palestinian prisoners, and Kerry sent that Palestinian list to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.  Kerry reportedly pressed for their release, and pinched hard when Netanyahu tried to strike off Palestinians who are either Israeli citizens or Permanent Residents of East Jerusalem.  Over the weekend, Netanyahu relented but said he would put the matter to a Cabinet vote on Sunday.

Netanyahu said in a statement published on Facebook on Saturday that “heads of state are at times required to make decisions that go against public opinion when matter of national import is at stake”.

But Netanyahu didn’t want to shoulder this responsibility alone, and said he would submit the matter to a vote in the regular meeting of his Cabinet on Sunday.

He also said the release would happen during the negotiations, not before — and he said it would stop if the Palestinians did not behave well.

Then, Netanyahu started making phone calls to try and get  support for the cabinet vote on the prisoner release…

Israeli government officials said that if Mahmoud Abbas could ask for the release of Palestinians with full Israeli citizenship,  this would imply that the PLO, and not Israel, is responsible for these men.

So, did the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday make the decision that the Palestinians awaited, and the Americans pressed for?  It’s not entirely clear.

Continue reading “Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release”

Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners

After hours of deliberation, Israel’s Cabinet voted on Monday to authorize the release of 104 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

There was a delay of one and half hours before the start of the cabinet meeting, as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu moved to shore up his own Likud party and make sure he had enough votes to pass the motion.’

Citizens were protesting outside Netanyahu’s office. A mountain of meanness was being expressed about the prisoner release, and the word “terror” was getting quite a workout.

Dani Dayan, for example, Tweeted this:
@dandayan — Releasing terrorists for peace, is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, it is dangerous, immoral and irresponsible.
@dandayan — Who did John Kerry set free? My piece at @TimesofIsrael . Releasing terrorists is obscene. http://dlvr.it/3jx4VK
@dandayan — a) I see no reason for any payment for the right to negotiate. b) Release of terrorists is morally flawed

@Marianhouk — Where is the leader who’ll tell his people that both sides have suffered? MT @DanWilliams Netanyahu: “Don’t lecture me abt fighting terror”.

According to Haaretz correspondent @BarakRavid on Twitter, Netanyahu reportedly told Likud ministers that “every Palestinian provocation will result in halting of the prisoner release process”, and also that “every decision to release Arab-Israeli prisoners will be brought back for a vote in the cabinet”…

UPDATE: Barak Ravid later wrote in Haaretz here that this latter proposal was based on a suggestion from Minister Silvan Shalom: “During the debate, Shalom proposed a compromise that eased the way for many Likud ministers to not vote against. Under the proposal, which was adopted by Netanyahu, any decision to release Israeli Arabs would require a new vote by the full cabinet. Based on the tentative schedule of prisoner releases, such a discussion is likely to take place, if at all, only in another nine months”.

Haaretz writer @AnshelPfeffer Tweeted slightly earlier that:
No PM in #Israel ever lost vote on releasing prisoners. #Netanyahu trying to “convince” ministers meant to show how “hard” the decision is

But, this leads to questions:
@Marianhouk — So it can be stopped if there are problems in talks? MT @rcolebourn – #Israel PM: prisoner releases will only happen after talks start + in a staged way…

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas called his Government ministers to the Muqata’a for a [rare] meeting at 2 pm.

And, a protest demonstration was called by the PFLP in Ramallah at noon.
@DaliaHatuqa reported that according to @Addameer:  A Ramallah demo against negotiations was broken up by PA police who beat protesters, including PLC member Khalida Jarrar

@RZabaneh Tweeted an amazing video of the clashes duringt the #PFLP protest against the resumption of negotiations. http://youtu.be/yF-IfN7Uw1Q

@LinahAlsaafin wrote that Demo against negotiations broken up by Palestinian Authority. PA is now arresting injured demonstrators from Ramallah Hospital v @Addameer

During the wait for the Israeli Cabinet vote, @DaliaHatuqa Tweeted that The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society published the list of names of detainees expected to be released = http://bit.ly/1c2lp3g

And, a PLO official told Haaretz that “The release of all the prisoners was an agreement between the U.S. + Israel, not between Israel + the Palestinians…Based on this agreement, the Americans received our consent to renew talks”…

Continue reading “Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners”

Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

After the build-up that led to the Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s session at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Saturday and Sunday — it was hard to understand why, at least during the speeches of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Abbas waived a copy of the Arab Peace Initiative in the air and asked Israelis to actually read it. It was not clear why. [Later it did become clear that the reason was the incentive it gives to Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank: recognition + full normal relations including trade with the entire Arab and Muslim world.]

Peres spoke about being born in an age of agriculture and living in a world of technology, where all good things could happen to the region if only there were peace. It was not clear why. [Peres contradicted the Israeli government’s current disapproval and said the Arab Peace Initiative was a strategic opportunity…] It was not clear why.  But, his reasons seem to be the same as Abbas’.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry started to talk, and seemed to have not much new to say; he thanked a lot of people and spoke about the Arab Spring. It was not clear why.

Then, Kerry said, he wanted to give ” I want to say a special thank you to the Quartet Representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair… he is working diligently on a special project that I want to share with you in a few minutes”…

It was all downhill from there…

US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013
US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013

Photo from the US State Dept “Amman and Dead Sea, Jordan” Flikr set, here.

Kerry said: “No one doubts that this is a very complex moment in international relations. But still, I don’t think that there is any secret about the conditions that are necessary for peace and stability to succeed. Those are: good governance, security, and economic opportunity. And so the real question for all of us, for President Abbas, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, all of us, is a very simple one: Will we, despite the historic hurdles, have the courage to make the choices that we know we need to make in order to break the stalemate and provide a change of life for people in this region?”

Then, Kerry announced the creation of an investment fund to be financed with a possible $4 billion dollars to spur private-sector development in the West Bank [though he did also mention  4 million people, though it was not clear who: if Kerry meant Palestinians only, that would include the West Bank population of some 2.8 million  and Gaza with some 1.5 million…]

It was clear that Kerry’s remarks were the real reason all those people were there, in the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on a Sunday afternoon…and Abbas and Peres were just there to prop up the show.

Kerry then explained the still-vague Blair super-project:
“I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.

It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now. And this, the intention of this plan, of all of its participants, is not to make it merely transformative, but frankly, to make it enormously powerful in the shaping of the possibilities of the future so that it is more transformative than incremental and different from anything that we have seen before.

To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.

This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed. One of these senior business leaders actually just celebrated his 69th birthday in Jerusalem at the Colony Hotel after spending a 14-hour day in the West Bank trying to figure it out.

When others ask them, all of them, why they’re here, doing this on their own time, the unanimous answer is: ‘Because we want a better future for both Israeli children and Palestinian children’.

Their plan begins with encouraging local, regional and international business leaders to, and to encourage government leaders in various parts of the world. I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.

Continue reading “Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians”

Salam Fayyad, still in office, saying that he wouldn't be quitting, if he thought Kerry's efforts had a chance

The former New York Times correspondent in Jerusalem Ethan Bronner, back for a visit [and presumably a friend of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad] reported today here that Fayyad “says Palestinian leaders must acknowledge their failure to deliver on their promises and call new elections. That is not happening. He tells friends that if he believed Mr. Kerry’s efforts had any chance of yielding results, he would not be quitting“…

Olmert's 2008 proposal on Palestinian refugees – to take a total of 5,000 over 5 years

Of course Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could not have signed on to this stingy proposal when it was tabled by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their last meeting on 16 September 2008.

Not only is the number of Palestinian refugees that Israel would take back “inside the Green Line” less than Ehud Barak’s previous suggestion [to take back tens of thousands a year, as a “humanitarian gesture”] at Camp David talks in late July 2000, but this is also supposed to extinguish any further mention of the “Right of Return”. At the same Camp David discussions, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he wanted to solve the problem of some 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon first — an idea that the Israeli delegation, who had just completed their unilateral May 2000 withdrawal for almost all of the “security zone” they had created during their 25-year occupation of South Lebanon, did not dismiss out of hand.

It is true that the Barak team said that most of the Palestinian refugees who would want to return would have to do so to the future Palestinian state. [Then, there was some suggestion that Israel would want to have a say in who and how many returned, even to the Palestinian territory = West Bank or Gaza…]

In any case, here is the relaxed way Olmert himself recently described it to Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff in a recent interview which was reported yesterday, here:

“I agreed to absorb into Israel up to 5,000 Palestinian refugees over five years. Why 5,000? It may sound kind of strange, but during the talks between Rice and Abu Mazen he said that he needed the settlement of tens of thousands of refugees inside Israel, and that Ehud Barak had been ready to take in 100,000. She told him that he could get the same number of people as could fit inside the Mukataa at any given moment. We estimated that number to be about 5,000. So that’s how I came up with the number. I’m telling you, if Abu Mazen had been ready to sign on an agreement that would require our absorbing 10,000-15,000 over five years, I would have agreed. It was after all about the number of African illegals who were sneaking across the border every year back then. But all of it, of course, on condition that they would sign an agreement for an ‘end of conflict and end of demands,’ so there would no longer be a ‘right of return.’”

Olmert added that “he explained to Abbas during their talks that Israel could not agree to any solution to the refugee problem according to UN Resolution 194, which in his view had created the Palestinian’s ‘claim of return’ myth. ‘But I said to him, first we will set up a special fund for compensation to the refugees, second, we will accept the road map, which includes in it the Arab peace initiative which also refers to resolution 194 with respect to a solution for the refugee problem. That way you too can claim that Israel accepted the basis of the Arab peace initiative including Resolution 194’.”

And, what did Mahmoud Abbas say?

From Olmert’s account, as reported by Issacharoff, you could get the impression Abbas was only prepared to engage immediately on the Land Swaps proposal… and even on that he hesitated [and cancelled the follow-up meeting of map expert’s scheduled for the next day].

Continue reading “Olmert's 2008 proposal on Palestinian refugees – to take a total of 5,000 over 5 years”